Our memories and emotions make us who we are. Our experiences in the world produce memories by physically changing the brain. Many experiences, like walking down the street to the store on a normal day, we do not remember. However, memories of emotionally charged events, such as being attacked by a dog while walking down the street, are burned into our brains and stay with us for our entire lives. These types of memories produce powerful emotional reactions, but when these emotional responses are not appropriate we need to be able to override them to return to normal behavior. How does the nervous system translate salient emotional experiences into neural signals with trigger memories and change our behavior? How does the brain control the balance between emotional responding and more flexible forms of behavior? Answering these questions is a central goal of our laboratory.

In the lab we study the brain circuit mechanisms which trigger and control emotional learning and memory. By studying these circuits our ultimate goal is to discover specific neural mechanisms for these behaviors while also identifying general principles of neural circuit function, neural coding and plasticity. These insights will ultimately guide us toward a better mechanistic understanding of learning and memory, emotions, decision making, pain and many other aspects of human experience.

Ultimately, we aim to provide better treatments for psychiatric and neurological conditions. Anxiety and chronic pain disorders are characterized by exaggerated emotional memory formation and an inability to override emotional reactions when they are inappropriate. Dysfunction in the circuits which trigger and control emotional learning and memory may underlie the clinical pathology associated with chronic pain and anxiety disorders. By understanding the circuit mechanisms of these processes and how they are dysregulated in disease states our ultimate goal is to provide better treatments for these debilitating conditions.